Frank Lampard gained the most impressive win of his career so far as Chelsea manager with his young side defeating last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax to emphatically boost their hopes of reaching the last-16.
It was substitute Michy Batshuayi who struck the only goal but it was the the replacement, Christian Pulisic, who created it and who made the difference as Chelsea admirably refused to settle for a draw and went for the win. The celebrations on the pitch at the end said it all.
That there was only one goal was itself extraordinary given how open and attacking the contest was in what was a meeting of two clubs whose academies mean so much for them with Chelsea hoping to emulate Ajax. Well they certainly delivered a lesson with this result.
It may have ended goalless but Chelsea scored with an impressive performance against last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax that bolsters their hopes of qualifying for the last-16.
It was relentless. It was frantic. It was, maybe also, the exuberance of youth – and the not so young also with Chelsea’s assistant manager Jody Morris cautioned by the referee Ovidlu Hategan. Quaintly the Romanian official made him stand up.
It felt like a goal was coming and Quincy Promes turned in a cross by Hakim Ziyech, which deflected off Fikayo Tomori’s back. After the celebrations came the VA check which showed Promes’ was offside – by, quite literally, a toe’s length ahead of Kurt Zouma.
That was a let-off for Chelsea and then there was a superb block by Cesar Azpilicueta with the captain throwing himself to block Promes shot when he was teed up, seven yards out. Azpilicueta punched the air in delight as if he had scored a goal. He had certainly, though, denied one. The turnover of possession was extraordinary. But rather than because of poor play it was through the desire of both sides to hunt down the ball.
As attacking as they are, Ajax also give up chances and Chelsea spurned two good ones in the first-half. Firstly Mason Mount worked his way in from the left, exchanging passes with Tammy Abraham and drawing a smart low save from goalkeeper Andre Onana at his near post. Then Joel Veltman cut out a cross but it fell straight to Callum Hudson-Odoi who had to do better than snatch at it, dragging his shot wide.
Ajax had looked broken after the Champions League semi-final defeat to Tottenham and while they lost Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt they have not lost a game since (13 wins and four draws) and, arguably, are a better all-round side.
Much is made of their young players and commitment to their academy but, actually, Ajax’s starting XI was older than Chelsea’s, albeit by days rather than years (25 years and 121 days against 25 years and 71 days, to be precise).
It was one of the youngest players, 21-year-old Edson Alvarez, the Mexican midfielder, who went close when he reached a corner only for his diving header to angle across goal and strike the outside of the far post. Soon after Daley Blind cut in from the left to force an alert low save from Kepa Arrizabalaga.
– The Telegragh